Everyone in the world has something we don’t have. Some of them have something we want, and they all have stuff we absolutely do NOT want.

I’ve only felt envy twice in my life. I hate the feeling. I guess if I’d experienced it more, I’d be better at dealing with it. But maybe no one is good at dealing with it. There’s a good reason it’s one of the “seven deadlies.” I can see how it could kill the soul.

It’s weird because the person I envy hasn’t done anything “to” me. The person isn’t involved in this at all — I think that might be an attribute of envy. And yet, in a way, the person has caused my feelings.

I woke up this morning thinking that we’re never “done.” We’re not cookies or cake or a steak on the grill. There’s always going to be something we have to learn. “You thought you were there? HA!” says Fate. “You aren’t ‘there’. As long as you live you’ll never be ‘there’.” Fate adds, “There’s no ‘there’. Ha ha.” Fate slides off, Machievellian laugher ringing behind him.

My mom was the Queen of Envy. It polluted her life, particularly in the last years. She found ways to envy everyone who loved her. She envied her sisters because their husbands hadn’t died and her sisters had someone “to go with.” The envy fed itself until her contact with reality was very sketchy. If she went over to one of her sisters’ houses to let her dog run, she was sure she was “bothering” them. She wasn’t. Her other sister? “She’s always judging me.” These perceptions weren’t real; they were manufactured projections onto reality born out of my mom’s envy. But, she was a narcissist and, therefore, the center of the world. I’m not. I’m just a person trying to be happy. I know I have no axes to grind, and I have been very lucky in my life, with opportunities and privileges most people never have.

So, I gotta’ deal with this. I think the best way might be to let a little light between us, keep on with my life and count my blessings a little more often.

Too Intense

“The thing, Kennedy, your problem is you’re too intense.

I did not understand what Miss Palos Verdes Estates aka M’Lou was saying at all. Her friend Janet agreed. “WAAAAAY too intense. You need to take it easy. Here. Take this album to your room and listen to it.”

To this day, it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. ❤

A few days later, Janet and M’Lou showed up at my dorm room door. “We’re gonna’ go hitch and see if we can score some weed.”

“Too bad we’re not in LA. All we’d have to do is go down to ‘the strip’.” M’Lou sighed. They were homesick.

“Scoring weed” wasn’t easy. Pot was VERY illegal. A jail sentence could result from smoking a joint in public, but it was a glorious September early evening in Denver, we three were pretty cute and Stapleton Airport was a short walk away from Temple Buell College, originally Colorado Woman’s College.

We headed down Quebec St. toward the airport and before long a VW camper van passed slowly. Janet stuck out her thumb. The VW stopped. We got in. I ended up sitting on some hippy’s lap. He had shoulder length brown hair, a beard and a flowered shirt. He was OLD! 25. We laughed and talked and scored half an ounce. I went out with that hippy a few times. He was a really nice guy.

Anyhoo, they let us out at an open field by Stapleton Airport. We were high. M’Lou had the weed stashed somewhere on her person because she had the most common sense of all of us (she claimed). We hung around in the field and watched the sunset.

Weed was pretty much just weed then. It wasn’t usually very strong and after a few hours it was gone from my system. It made me silly, but not all that high, not ridiculously high, not immobilizingly high. Most of all, I dampened down the intensity. Janet and M’Lou were right. That WAS my problem. I AM very intense. But then, the fall of 1970, I was probably EXTREMELY intense. I wasn’t in the best place psychologically when I went away to college. I had a recently broken heart. My dad was very sick. My brother was a total mess, living on the street. The world was falling apart and somehow I felt it was my job to “patch things up and hold them together.”

That first semester at college I experimented with being a hippy, but the dark side of hippy-dom showed itself over the passing months. Janet had a very bad acid trip, freaked out and ended up hiding in my dorm room while I talked her down. “I don’t feel safe anywhere else, Martha. You have to let me in.” Over Christmas I went home and when I got back to school, sober, I saw that the profound poetry I’d written while high was very stupid. “Uh, wow, my hand,” stupid.


Vague Geriatric Wanderlust for the Financially Sketchy

One of my longest-time friends is receiving an award, a really special one, in Denver next month. She invited me. My first thought was, “I don’t have clothes for this!” I described my fashion crisis on Facebook and got GOOD help. Out of THAT I realized 1) I have a fancy outfit, and 2) I don’t want to be buried in it. Realizing I could show up in something other than jeans and a sweatshirt, my fingers shot back to my friend a big, red YES!!! Then I investigated the cost of the hotel and everything else the trip would entail, and I had to write again, “I can’t.”

Friends stepped up with invitations to stay with them, but even then? Not easy. I thought about it for two nights (seriously) and realized that what I really want to do is hang out with her. She’s invited me several times and I have never gone. I wrote again, explaining how we wouldn’t get much of a chance to talk, catch up, anything at the event and I’d really like to have that chance. We’ve decided I will come up for a weekend so we can talk and do things together.

Money is a “thing.” Day-to-day I feel like a well-off, prosperous person but that feeling depends on remaining mostly stationary. I can no longer “GO!” paid for by a credit card I can easily pay off with an extra summer class as I once did.

I had a student some years ago whose father had left his mother and moved back to Spain. The father wanted the son to visit but the son wasn’t sure. We had a heart-to-heart about this (in my mind non-dilemma) and I said, “Whenever you get the chance, GO! Just GO!!” With a ball-point pen I wrote “Just GO!!” on his jeans. He was sitting facing me and I wrote it just over his knee. Over the weekend he had those words tattooed on his leg. I wonder what kind of shit I’d be in today for writing on a kid’s leg…

I still believe in that philosophy, but it’s not that easy. The man “in” my life (at a distance) has written:

* Colorado…….se potessi arriverei lì in un attimo…..adesso abbiamo un volo diretto da Roma a Denver con Norvegian……prima o poi….

BUT — I’m now seriously thinking about going (somewhere). My little first-world crisis last week awakened me to the fact that I’m not really ready just to stay here. The thing about GOING at this point in my life is that it has to be (as with a visit to my old friend) the right journey. I’m not sure yet what that will be — the Middle East or Switzerland. Typing this, I think I made my decision. One of writing’s great gifts is clarification.

As I wrote this post, Mohammed’s radio blared (sweetly), this song that I sang in the shower when I was a teenager. It drove my mom crazy. I don’t sing well, and I didn’t know all the words, but, dammit, I was LEAVING ON A JET PLANE!!!! 😀

*Colorado ……. if I could I would arrive there in a moment ….. now we have a direct flight from Rome to Denver with Norwegian … …sooner or later….


It's All Evanescent

“No! Don’t open that Michelle!” I leap quickly to the curb and push Bella’s back passenger door closed.

“I want to see Bear.”

“I know, but that’s not a good way for her to come out. She’s fastened in there.”

“Never do that, ‘chelle. Don’t mess with other people’s animals,” says Michelle’s and Connor’s mom. Michelle puts her head down, ashamed.

“It’s OK. I’ll get Bear.” I go to the back of Bella, open the door. Michelle is right beside me. “Remember when she ran away that day?” The little girl wearing the rainbow tutu, tights and boots nods. “I fasten her in now.” I loop Bear’s leash around my wrist. “OK, open that carabiner.” Michelle does. 8 year olds like to show their competence at stuff. Bear jumps down. “Can I walk her?”

“Uh, OK.” Mom is standing by and knows how this works. Michelle takes the middle of Bear’s leash and I have it by the loop. I’m walking Bear. Michelle is holding on. Bear lunges toward a patch of untouched snow (talk about evanescence!) “Whoa!” says Michelle, laughing. “Bear’s STRONG!”

“She weighs more than you and more than half of what I do. She’s a powerful beastie. Let go, Michelle. Bear wants to roll around. She LOVES snow more than anything.”

Their mom takes out her phone and photographs all of us, Connor, Michelle, Bear rolling in the snow, and me holding Bear’s leash. I imagine that photo in some dim someday.

Christmas. Elizabeth invites me for dinner with her and her husband. She prepares lamb. We have a lot of fun talking and then Bob tells me he has the seat from Eddie Rickenbacker’s plane. He tells me the back story. I’m amazed. I love those early flyers. He goes down to the basement and brings it up for me to see. I sit in it. I sit in Eddie Rickenbacker’s seat. Here, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Bob tells me how the Smithsonian didn’t want it and shows me the letter. “They have another seat.” Bob shrugs.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Airplane Seat

Then Bob brings up a couple of photo albums from the early 20th century. There are pictures of Europe. I correctly identify the locations as Italy. Milan. There’s General Pershing. In another couple of photos is the Alamo.

“I have no idea who these people are,” says Bob. “My brother got them from the dump in Durango.”

I carry some dishes out to the kitchen. There’s Elizabeth in the winter sunlight washing dishes. I take a photo with my phone. In the foreground is the mince pie I made. The steam vents in the top are cut exactly the way my grandmother taught me.

An “ordinary” moment.

At the Rio Grande County Museum I spy an old gas stove from the 30s. I had one just like it in a house I rented in Denver. It was great. I comment on it to Louise who runs the museum. She tells me the story of the stove. Then I notice what she’s done. She’s set up a 1930’s kitchen, table with embroidered tablecloth and china, ice-box, cupboard, kids’ play table with a kids tea set beside the grown up table. It’s so pretty. Next to it, behind a temporary partition, a screen, she’s set up a teacher’s desk, slate, old text books. “Oh, a school house!” Louise beams.

“You want my grandfather’s history book? He was born in 1870. I have his math book, too.” She says yes.

The boots in the featured photo were my favorite shoes for nearly a decade. We covered miles and miles together in Montana, Colorado, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Switzerland. They were with me on a journey that turned out — decades later — to have been one of the most important in my life, a journey to Zion, Lake Powell (ick), Kayenta, Monument Valley, Arches. My friend (plaid shirt) and I had no idea at the time that we were on a journey of a lifetime that would define and seal an emotional bond that has lasted for more than 20 years.

You can see my boots in this photo. They had blue laces for a little while.

After being resoled three or four times, there wasn’t enough leather left on my boots for another resoling job. I left them behind in Zürich and got new boots for my birthday, splendid boots. I was sad, though, and my friend Pietro handed me “la macchina” (camera) so I could take a picture. Pietro died of lymphoma the next year.

My daily reminder of the evanescence of things is my morning coffee. I’ve finished, Teddy is cleaning my cup.


Swiss in the San Luis Valley

This coming summer — on June 20, the Saturday closest to my grandmother Beall’s birthday — I’ll be reading from the trilogy. The trilogy’s official title is very long and cumbersome, but the titles I wanted were taken, so I titled it, Across the World on the Wings of the Wind. Long though it is, it’s very expressive of the three books together. They are Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price. You can learn about them on their website.

I expect to read from The Brothers Path and The Price. Savior is pretty far away from the experiences relevant to the people to whom I’ll be reading. The project is turning out to be part of a presentation and exhibit on Swiss immigrants in the San Luis Valley.

Switzerland might be a small, land-locked country, but Madame Helvetica’s people really got around. In the 17th and 18th century many left — as my ancestors did — for religious reasons. Life in Switzerland was hard for many centuries, and in the 19th century, many, many left for better opportunities. The emigration from Switzerland continued well into the twentieth century. Most of the Swiss in the San Luis Valley arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swiss ancestry is one of the most common in the United States.

Members of my family left illegally, with no passport or permission. There is a letter to them from the Canton of Zürich telling them they will be arrested if they return. I’ve enjoyed free coming and going for more than twenty years, so it seems the hatchet was buried some time back. I love Switzerland and wish, sometimes, that I was a boomerang, but…

I’m looking forward to the project and working with the Rio Grande County Museum and people in the valley I don’t know yet. One family — the Knoblauchs — are doing the Swiss thing; they have a dairy farm — the Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy — goats, cattle, yaks — and they make cheese.

Wheels of Cheese at the Knoblauch’s Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Ranch

I’ve visited their farm and really enjoyed it. My favorite animal was the yak.

Because of my best friend, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, the Akbash, the livestock guardian dog, I’m very interested in how people protect their livestock from predation. The Knoblauchs use llamas to guard the stock in the day and Great Pyrenees guard the stock at night. They also have the sweetest pit bull on the planet.

Right now the project is at the GIANT amorphous size of a project, but soon, I hope, it will start to center on itself and we’ll know what it is.

As for me, I’m only 10% Swiss but that ancestry has had a disproportionate influence on me as a writer and maybe as a person. My Grandmother Beall (family names include Stober and Schneebeli) was an important person in my life even though she died when I was ten. I can’t explain it and have stopped trying. If I’ve been channeling her family all this time, it’s fine with me. I love them and their stories just as I love my aunts and am proud of my family’s adventures.

When my Aussie neighbor Elizabeth brings me jelly she has made, she brings it in a “boomerang” jar.


Potato Cellar Outside Del Norte

This was a difficult painting. I don’t know why, but it was. It’s finished probably really though there might be something I see it won’t be a major change. It’s funny in a painting what you leave out. All around this potato cellar are old tools that would mean nothing to anyone looking at this painting even though in real life they’re interesting. To the left facing is an old wagon that, in this painting would look like two green stripes, again, meaningless.

In this painting I was very conscious of painting something that would say something. I realize that’s because this is a manmade thing and most of what I paint is just (just?) nature. Buildings say something different — I wasn’t aware of that when I started out to paint this potato cellar. I added the strips of turquoise paint. They are not actually there and I don’t know if potato cellars were ever painted with the turquoise paint that is emblematic of Hispanic buildings in America’s southwest. It was my way of placing this in Southern Colorado and identifying its cultural origin. I guess that’s artistic license. Other than that blue and the underpainting on the sky which is cerulean, all the colors are natural pigments. I used various whites.

Although the adobe potato cellars look “ancient,” they are structures from the 1950s and 1960s. Some roofs are sod. They are ideal for storing potatoes because adobe walls are dirt. The perfect potato cellar simulates potato’s home environment which is under ground. I’ve seen potato cellars in Idaho that are dug into a hillside.

These buildings are very beautiful and I hope to paint more. Fortunately, they made it to the list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places so there will be some effort made to preserve them.

Potato Cellar 20 x 16 Oil on Panel

You can learn about these beautiful structures from Zoe Rierson who is an incredibly cool girl, a cultural anthropologist. In this video you can also hear the beautiful English spoken by Hispanic people who live here. It’s music to my ears.

Sitting Here, Waiting to Be Inspired with a Good Title for this Post

I’m not waiting for much of anything any more, and certainly not for spring (ew). Though, to be fair, once spring comes, I’ll start waiting for winter. Sigh…

Retirement has altered time’s curvature. I don’t have to “wait” to the same degree I did when I was working. I used to wait a LOT. I waited at red lights. I waited in traffic. I waited for the class to start and for class to end. I waited for the end of the semester. I waited for meetings to finally finish. I waited for “luv.” I waited for planes. I waited for — well, the list is interminable, and if I keep going YOU’RE going to wait for this post to end. Or maybe you won’t wait.

I did my most intense waiting as a teenager, but teenagers are just intense. I remember waiting for my CLOTHES to dry so I could wear a certain shirt because it had to be THAT shirt or nothing, or the world would collapse.

Teddy is here, waiting for his coffee. Even dogs wait.

Kids wait, but live in the moment at the same time. It’s a nice balance. Yesterday when I saw the kids, the little girl had a beautiful soft doll — Elsa. I said, “I love Frozen.” I do. I saw it on the plane coming back from (ha ha) Iceland. It was one of the high points of the trip.

“Me too!” she said. “I just saw Frozen II!”

Their mom told me that they had taken the kids to the movies to see Frozen II, and it wasn’t until they were waiting in line for popcorn that the kids realized where they were. “They’ve never seen a movie in a theater before,” said their mom.

“They must’ve loved it.”

“They did!”

Probably even better because they didn’t have to wait for it!


Happy Lupercalia! (Valentine's Day)

I’ve had an awesome Valentine’s Day — again. My Valentine today included an wonderful, heartfelt conversation with Louise at the Rio Grande County Museum followed by a fun conversation with the kids ending in exchanges of “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and hugs. Then I had a FAST walk at the slough with Bear, listening to hundreds of cranes singing their spring songs all around and spying a large herd of elk in the trees along the river.

In 2014 I wrote about a couple of other GREAT Valentine’s days. I wanted to share again since some time has passed.

Valentines from God, Danny, Brownie T. Horse and Andy Jr.

I should not be so cynical about Valentine’s Day. In fact, I got a lacy, beautiful and perfect Valentine from none other than God.

2002: I was in love with a fella’ who wasn’t in love with me. Valentine’s Day came with the usual feelings of failure and confusion. At about 1 pm I decided to take my white Husky/Wolf, Ariel, for a hike up in the Laguna Mountains. We reached the trail head and, the moment we did, it began to snow, the particular gentle, wet and lacy flakes of a Southern California snow shower. The loop we hiked was three miles. It went across a small forest of Jeffrey Pine, up some rocky hills, down through more pines, up a wonderful outcropping to a pond. From the pond we returned across a meadow and then we reached the truck.

Ariel in the Snow, Garnet Peak Trail

It snowed the whole time, dream snow, perfect snow, white, gentle, sweet and ALL MINE. No one else was there — and, at the moment we returned to the trail head where we’d begun, the Valentine snow shower stopped.

In spite of having no particular religion — and not liking religion much — I really love God. I don’t actually know why and don’t think I have to. It’s things like that, small miracles in nature that appear just for me, just because I go out there where I’m more likely to see God trying to communicate.

1990 something: I’ve had a couple of other amazing Valentines, too. One miserable day I got home from school (back when I lived in San Diego). It’d been an awful day. Frustrating, annoying, disputative, bleah. I drove up to my house disgusted with things, life and people and saw my porch was covered with red and pink flowers. Someone (I had a good idea who) had stripped every geranium, every hibiscus, even the thorny bougainvillea to do that. I was enchanted. I melted. I stepped over it and went inside. Soon there was a knock on my door, at about the height a 6 year old could reach. I knew who it was. Danny, a little boy being foster-momed by my wonderful neighbor. Danny was different; he liked his foster sister’s clothing and played with Barbies. His foster mom made no fuss over that, just left him to be himself. I opened the door and there he stood wearing pop-beads, carrying a purse and wearing lipstick. He’d been sent over to apologize. His head hung in shame. I said, “Did you do this, Danny?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? I LOVE it. You made me so happy!”

“I did?

“Yeah. It’s beautiful. I had a bad day but you made it all better!”

He climbed up on my lap and hugged me, then jumped down and danced around the yard, his purse flapping, singing, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

2014: Valentines are everywhere, actually. I just got one. I was outside with the horse and the little boy next door who’s almost four. When I said I had to go in, he said, “I need to give you some water, Martha!” I told him I was OK, I didn’t need any water (he’s learned to keep the horse watered).

“OK,” he said. “I love you, Martha!”

“I love you too, Andy.”

What card could possibly equal any of these Valentines! I hope yours has been as lovely. ❤

Do We EVER Grow Up???

When I was a little kid I dreamed of faraway places and I was sure I would have “Seven League Boots” of my own and see all of them. My first inkling of the actual size of the world was taking the skis to China and realizing there was no way in hell I was going Langlauf in Tibet. It was too far, too remote, and, at that time, foreigners could only sneak in.

My great heroes — T. E. Lawrence, Richard Halliburton and Lowell Thomas — had accomplished their feats on foot (ha ha), train, camel, yak, bi-plane. Our world — big as it is — is considerably smaller than was theirs!

My good friend is out there now on a vacation from dreams. One part of it includes my entire bucket list. Well, the biggest and most impossible part of that list. There are really only two things on it. Langlauf in Yellowstone and visit Jordan.

I woke up yesterday feeling weird about it, a completely new feeling weird. I’m not good at all at identifying my emotions having been raised to suppress them. I’ve only lately realized I’ll act out without knowing why. emotions are fuel. (“Anger is an energy, anger is an energy…”) I spent the morning confused and weepy trying to figure it out then I realized. I want to go, too. Wow. So simple. Just exactly like a little kid who doesn’t get to go to the big kids’ birthday party at the bowling alley or ride Space Mountain.

Like that. Only I’m not too little for the ride. I’m too poor. Grrrr….

Envy? Resentment? Nothing that sophisticated. Just the sense of being excluded, not from what my friend is doing, but from my lifelong dream because of money.

Meanwhile I’m reading people dissing Bloomberg because he has money.

Feeling sorry for myself, I worked on my challenging painting of the potato cellar, cleaned house, rode the bike to nowhere, talked to a friend about how I felt which helped a lot to clear things up. Then I sat down and priced out the journey I would like to take and that was fun. Reality is a great thing — having options laid out in front of me by the grace of Mr. Internet.

Once I’d had a look at reality, I was fine. It was interesting exploring the explorations available. Some journeys are only for people from 18 to 35. Club Med? What? No, the idea is that only people of that age are something. I don’t know. There are some open to people between 18 and 70 (I’d better hurry). Some are open to people 18 to 99. There are some tours that start at $10,000.

I understood myself in a new and different way as I perused the options.

I saw the difference between me at 30 and me now. National Geographic offers adventures that involve activities that would have interested me when I was younger, but don’t now. I don’t want to visit Palestinian refugee camps, for one. I no longer see that as enlightened. I see it as patronizing. Suffering people do not constitute a zoo for my perusal on an outrageously expensive Middle Eastern trek. I also don’t want to sleep several nights in a Bedouin tent. First of all, it’s not that easy for me to get up off the ground (but I can!!!!) Second, none of the numerous Arabs I’ve known in my life want to sleep in a Bedouin tent, either. Besides THAT (and while this does not equal a journey to Arabia) the Saudis BROUGHT their desert to LA back in the 80s — literally. They filled an enormous exhibition hall with sand — sand from Arabia, not sand from Manhattan Beach. They built models of medieval ruins. Set up Bedouin tents and bazaars. Talking with a vendor that day I asked how real it was, and he said it was very real, except for the air-conditioning.

Also, by the grace of an Afghani refugee family with whom I was close in San Diego, I went on Hadj. Video Hadj. It was a very long and amazing journey, but Mohammed Ali Kabiri explained that it counted. “This is for those people who are so far away or too sick or crippled to visit Mecca.”

I thought of Richard Halliburton’s dream of visiting Mecca (he succeeded) and of Richard Francis Burton sneaking into Mecca disguised as an Arab… And here it was on VHS.

As I searched yesterday, I realized that my ideal trip is impossible. No one’s going to Damascus now or Beirut. I saw that tours to Jerusalem are very Christianity-focused (it’s the market) and I was wondering if there were a way to avoid that, even though I would like to see those places and am not at all antipathetic to Christianity, I’m not seeking a profound religious experience. If it happened, great, but that’s not the kind of pilgrimage I’m seeking.

In Savior I wrote about the Middle East. It took an incredible amount of very interesting research to go back in time. I started with T. E. Lawrence’ thesis on Crusader Castles. The hero of that novel — Rudolf von Lunkhofen — travels as a Teutonic Knight from Acre to Gaza to Jerusalem to the Qaddisha Vallen in Lebanon back home to Switzerland. To write this I had to learn about Jerusalem in the 13th century. The only map of Jerusalem I have is a medieval map, but I got to know that map very well.

Letting my “fingers do the walking,” my computer and I wandered around the virtual Middle East yesterday looking for a tour that I could afford that would take me to at least one Crusader castle. I was successful.

Inside cover of Seven League Boots by Richard Halliburton, copyright 1933, my mom’s bookplate ❤

I checked the balances on all my credit cards — well, I’m definitely skilled in paying those suckers down. 🙂 Now it remains to be seen if I go or decide to let all this remain in the realm of dreams. Each option has value.


Literary Ghetto

I had an epiphany yesterday about my books. At the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op there is a special section for “local authors.” The sign over the shelf says, “We love local authors!” Not really. Putting them on a shelf like that isn’t “love.” It’s stigmatization.

Here’s what I mean.

None of the books I took to the Narrow Gauge in October have sold. It occurred to me that the local authors shelf is kind of a ghetto neighborhood. Local authors’ books should be interspersed with the other books in their genres. My books should be shelved with historical fiction. Why would anyone look for historical fiction about Switzerland, Mennonites or the Crusades on a shelf in an Alamosa bookstore tagged “Local Authors?” That does not mean “most desirable.” It sounds like a warning… I’m thinking of liberating them next week some time.

This has also led me to think about how much of life is disappointing. We want things. We hope things. All the time. Most of the time we don’t get whatever it was we hoped for or wanted (or is that just me?). Along the way we get wise advice, such as “Let nature take it’s course,” or “All in the fullness of time.”

When I was in Milan about a million years ago there was a young woman in the neighborhood where my friend’s sister had a store. This young woman was determined and earnest about converting me to Buddhism. I was pretty miserable in Milan a million years ago. I had a broken heart, a fairly flat wallet, few options and a desperate desire to get away, but I couldn’t. I had to deal. That the girl was so adamant, so desirous, of persuading me was, right there, an eloquent synopsis of the whole philosophical/spiritual problem of striving to overcome desire.

It’s incredible how many times that situation happens in life. You’re trapped with your emotions and all you can do is deal. Anyway, I wrote pretty beautifully about it in a book that will never be in the local author’s section or anywhere else. 😉

I wrote about being in Venice alone one afternoon, wandering around and studying the mosaics in the Basilica San Marco. While I was there, I suddenly understood Yeat’s poems, “Byzantium,” and “Sailing to Byzantium” more profoundly, differently, than I had before. They are poems about artifice and desire…

From the book…

To work for ANYTHING without WANTING to? The merely MECHANICAL, for a man to to work without desire. But a machine? No desire, yet,working, furthering the desires of its maker for earthbound immortality? Extending the purpose for which the artist was born? Good God. Yeats’ golden bird chirps into infinity. A soulless, animatronic, singing mechanism, like this Byzantine labyrinthine basilica, a curiosity for which I waited in line 48 years. Yeats himself left only the immortal idea, there is no bird, only songs, “. . . images that yet, fresh images beget” Inspiration; the animating breath. In a corner, in a dark and quiet shelter from the gold, the devout kneel, noiseless, before a painted statue of the Virgin. Her sweet face, compassionate and gentle, the child on one arm but the other open ready to succor another, offer mournful man what he needs more than God’s glory–God’s mercy; she models, inspires, love. 

I look at the ceiling and for the first time notice how living stories suffuse each voluptuous arch. The fish of the sea and the birds of the air struggle to life in a segment between archangels. The sea is crowded with fish; in their midst, a dragon. A golden eagle dives from one corner; a goose, a swan, a gull, a heron, an egret, a duck and a raven fill the rest of this compressed and golden sky. “All mere complexities of mire and blood.” Nearby, Noah releases a dove. St. Mark crosses the Mediterranean and is hauled up the Adriatic. His corpse sits on the boat like a living entity; the sea is rough; three men struggle to bring in the sail while a fourth, the animate soul of St. Mark, holds the rudder steady.

I study this “monument to its own magnificence” (Basilica San Marco in Venice) as well as I can–though to do a decent job would take me YEARS; I am that ignorant. I buy postcards, step outside and wait for my eyes to adjust to the light of the pigeon tormented piazza. In Yeats I had found not just “a” key but the key. 

Some of the people I met and talked with in Milan were Buddhists, Italian Buddhists. From these Italian Buddhists, I heard the argument that mastering desire is enlightenment. One handed me hand-rolled sticks of incense from Tibet as I stood in the doorway of the shop in the Naviglia. “If you do not WANT anything you are free.” This, I guess, is peace? The thin young woman who pressed the sandalwood sticks on me had an earnest not beautiful face; passionately and with consummate desire, she tried to get me to change my mind without knowing my mind. For me, God is inexpressible, unutterable. Awe. God is the force that pushes me beyond myself. I am his “golden handiwork;” his “golden bird upon a golden bough”–this earth. I WANT that song with all the burning ferocity of lust. 

The tranquil slow evening, the leisurely shutting down of businesses along the street, a new bottle of Italian spring water, I stood holding my incense; that was my first night in Milan. Tomorrow will be my last. I see all of it already in my mind as a form distilled and perfected through time, emerging. I loved that fervent girl standing there, color for my yet unpainted picture. I smiled and told her that yes indeed I do know the terrible pitfalls of desire (who would know better?) that I even saw the Dahlai Lama, and when? you were six or seven I tell her. It isn’t that I did not believe that what she told me is true. That desire makes us miserable is ONLY logical, but logic isn’t sufficient. “Hey, you guys overcome desire, you can reach Nirvana; you can become divine.”